The parts for a “ghost pistol” can easily be ordered online, and instructional videos show how an “80 percent lower” part of a pistol can be milled, drilled and combined with the upper 20 percent – the trigger, the barrel, the firing pin – to make a weapon that doesn’t have a serial number and doesn’t require a background check.
After DC police began retrieving more and more weapons, often linked to crime, the district passed an emergency law that year banning the kits used to make ghost weapons. DC Attorney General Karl A. Racine filed a pending consumer protection lawsuit against one of the largest gun parts manufacturers, Polymer80, in June.
In 2017, DC police found three such weapons, and by last year that number had risen to 116. In these three years, Racine said, nine ghost weapons were involved in murders. That year, local and federal police recovered 282 ghost rifles in the city on Dec. 17, according to the district’s Department of Forensic Sciences.
The local attorney general joined 16 other attorneys general in support of a federal lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York by the cities of Syracuse, New York, San Jose, Chicago, and Columbia, SC, and the pro gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety against ATF, the Justice Department and the US Attorney General. The lawsuit targets several “interpretative decisions” that ATF has issued to gun component manufacturers in recent years, stating that the unfinished lower and upper parts of guns are not themselves firearms.
The ATF website states that “items such as receiver blanks, castings or machined bodies where the fire protection cavity is completely solid and unmachined have not reached the manufacturing stage that would lead to the classification of a firearm” under federal law.
Manufacturers then posted the ATF decisions on their websites to reassure customers that the parts they bought were legal. Such decisions “encouraged and encouraged the ghost weapons industry to sell their products nationwide,” even in states that have banned them. As of 2015, the DC and six states have enacted ghost weapon-specific laws, attorneys general said in their amicus letter.
There are approximately 80 online sellers of partially completed lower frames (for handguns) and receivers (for long guns). The ATF said last year that about 30 percent of guns recovered in California did not have serial numbers. Ghost rifles were used in mass shootings at Santa Monica College in 2013 and in Rancho Tehama, California, in 2017 by men who were prohibited from legally buying guns.
“The ATF’s ruthless interpretation of the law and lack of regulation could lead to more undetectable weapons on our streets and potentially endanger the Virginians and their families,” Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring said in a press release.
The ATF has not yet responded to the lawsuit in New York. In a similar lawsuit by the State of California, two fathers of ghost gun victims, and the Giffords Law Center for the Prevention of Gun Violence, the agency defended its interpretation of the Federal Gun Control Act of 1968. The bureau argued, “a The recipient blank may cannot be readily converted into a firearm because it requires numerous milling and metalworking steps and a working pistol cannot be made without difficulty. ”
The unfinished weapon parts are “therefore not a” firearm “within the meaning of the law,” Justice Department attorneys said last month in the California case.
The Weapons Act defines a firearm as any weapon that is “designed or easily converted to eject a projectile under the action of an explosive”. Kathleen Konopka, the assistant attorney general for public advocacy in Washington, said in an interview that many states have designed their laws according to federal law. “To our surprise, ATF has now interpreted this differently. We believe this is a misinterpretation of federal and state laws, ”she said.
Making a gun at home is legal and has long been made by firearms enthusiasts. And the advent of 3D printers has simplified the process, although experts say these plastic-made guns don’t work well for long and DC police have found few of them.
But only licensed arms dealers are allowed to sell arms. Hence, it is attractive for criminals to make a gun without a serial number or to buy one from someone who did it. There’s no background check to stop people with a criminal record, domestic violence, or mental health problem from buying, and no serial number makes it significantly more difficult for police to track the history of a gun and determine who bought it or who owned it after it was used in a crime.
“The fact that they are not regulated,” Konopka said, “has really increased crime in the city and decreased the ability to solve these crimes.”
“The ATF’s interpretation of the law,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, “enables criminals who fail a background check to obtain undetectable firearms.” It is an absolute danger to law-abiding Americans. “